Reaching Out to Hurting Sinners

(October 23, 2022)

Bottom line: As Christians we reach out to those who are hurting, even if some of their pain comes from their own bad behavior. We start with the tax collector's prayer.

Last year Pope Francis launched a synodal listening process. He asked people to share their concerns and hopes for the future of our church. The listening sessions began on a parish level. Of all the parishes in the Archdiocese over 90% participated - including St Mary of the Valley. A lot of positive came out, but as you can imagine, a lot of anger and hurt. For example "Whether with regard to divorced and remarried, politicians or members of the LGBTQ+ community, people feel the Eucharist is being used to punish or exclude." The report also showed, "Meanwhile a smaller number of participants expressed frustration that the hierarchy seems fearful of speaking the truth and have made too many concessions to the prevailing culture."

Our parish council has been reflecting on these and other concerns - and will continue to do so. Our starting point will not be politics, but the Gospel. We have an excellent Gospel today to help us address our divisions.

You know, it's easy to act like the pharisee: to look down on and judge others: "O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity -- greedy, dishonest, adulterous..." As an election draws near, aren't those the the kind of things we hear people say about their opponents? Notice in the parable that Jesus doesn't say the pharisee was speaking falsely about other people or about himself. The pharisee was doing something commendable in tithing and fasting. The problem is the way he looked down on others and judged them.

As followers of Jesus, we've got to be different. We have to start with the attitude of the tax collector. He "beat his breast and prayed, 'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.'" That's what we do at Mass. We say "I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and what I have failed to do." Then we strike our breast three times and say, "through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault." If we could say those words and really mean them, we would be less likely to condemn others. Pope Francis tells us that instead of judging others, we accompany them - as fellow sinners in need of forgiveness and healing.

In our faith formation we will talk about accompaniment, even of family who are straying from or struggling with their faith. When I was pastor in Seattle we had a group called "Courage". They were young men and women experiencing same sex attraction, but at the same time, want to follow Jesus' teaching on chastity. Many had come from a lifestyle that involved drug abuse and promiscuity. They sometimes felt a pull backwards and sometimes fell. But they used confession, the rosary and wholesome friendships to get on the right track.

Accompaniment is not easy. St. Paul writes: "At my first defense no one appeared on my behalf, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them!" Under Roman law, a prisoner was allowed a preliminary hearing before he had a full trial. With the Emperor Nero blaming Christians for the great fire of July 64, anyone standing next to Paul, would be putting his own life at risk. Accompaniment is not easy.

As Christians we reach to those who are hurting, even if some of their pain comes from their own bad behavior. We start with the tax collector's prayer. "O God, be merciful to me a sinner." Sin breaks our own hearts - and the hearts of other people. To conclude this homily I can do no better that quote today's Psalm, "The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves."


Homily Boots Laced #6: The Good Fight - Our Lord of Miracles (Audio homily for 30th Sunday, Year C 2016)

How to Pray, Part Three (Audio homily for 30th Sunday, Year C 2013)

From Archives (Homilies for Thirtieth Sunday, Year C):

2019: Come to the Truth
2016: Boots Laced Week 6: The Good Fight
2013: How to Pray, Part Three: Mass as the Publican's Prayer
2010: Posture at Mass
2007: The Cry of the Poor
2004: Be Merciful to Me, a Sinner
2001: A Lesson in Humility

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)

Take the Plunge Bible Study (audio resources) *New episodes for Ordinary Time leading up to Lent*

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Other Priests' Homilies, Well Worth Listening:
Bishop Frank Schuster
Fr. Brad Hagelin
Fr. Jim Northrop
Fr. Michael White
Fr Pat Freitag (and deacons of St. Monica)
Bishop Robert Barron

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MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru